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Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • Attending school can be a risky endeavor for many girls in all settings, including conflict.  Because of the erosion of standard protection mechanisms caused by conflict, girls may face an increased risk of harassment and assault traveling to and from school.  Unprofessional teachers may take advantage of their positions and sexually exploit girls, and lack of staff supervision increases the risk of assault occurring on school grounds.  In addition, the extreme poverty brought about by emergency settings may force girls to turn to transactional sex or exploitative relationships in order to pay school fees (INEE Gender Task Team, 2006). Girls also face increased barriers accessing education in conflict settings, which in turn limits their access to economic and social empowerment (Mooney & French, 2005).
  • However, carefully implemented education programmes can decrease girls’ risk of sexual violence in several ways:
    • Education is a valuable asset for future economic opportunities:  It helps girls to overcome systemic gender oppression by empowering them and providing them with knowledge and skills. 
    • Schools can provide girls with a stable environment that is supportive and safe.  When girls are kept in school they are less likely to enter early marriages or exploitative income-earning activities.
    • School is also a place where cultural norms can be challenged and re-shaped to support gender equality and prevent violence against women and girls (Oxfam GB & Kafa, 2011).  Children can learn valuable life skills, such as conflict resolution, relationship skills, risks of sexual activity, HIV/AIDS, and conflict resolution (IASC, 2005). 
  • Moreover, crisis situations can offer a window of opportunity in which the introduction of gender-responsive education can eventually lead to broader and long-term shifts in the educational system that support the equality of women and girls and reductions in tolerance and perpetration of violence(IASC, 2006).

a. Key Considerations for the Education Sector/Cluster


  • In addition, the following considerations should be taken into account within the education sector:


1.    Re-shape cultural norms in support of gender equality. Making curricula more gender-sensitive and providing gender training to teachers are entry points for challenging embedded norms about gender and the use of violence.  Possible strategies include:

  • using a diverse range of teaching methods and non-traditional approaches to learning for both girls and boys.
  • modeling and encouraging diverse, non-violent forms of masculinity, such as verbal (rather than physical) conflict resolution, or identifying and showing a full range of emotions.
  • encouraging non-traditional forms of femininity, such as assertiveness (Oxfam GB & KAFA, 2011).
  • preventing peer-to-peer violence by expanding curricula to cover and promote conflict management, women’s and children’s rights, respect, peace education, and tolerance and organizing discussions with boys and girls – both separately and together – to explore healthy relationships and their beliefs about violence and gender (UNHCR, 2007b).
For an example of WRC’s work with girls from Darfur, see Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. 2005b. Don’t Forget Us: The Education and Gender-Based Violence Protection Needs of Adolescent Girls from Darfur in Chad. New York: WRC.

2.    Include GBV in life skills training for teachers, girls, and boys in all educational settings (IASC, 2006).

3.    Establish prevention and response mechanisms to SEA in educational settings (IASC, 2006).

4.    Conduct advocacy. Advocate for national government policies that support free access to primary education as well as clear regulations prohibiting and penalizing violence and exploitation.  Advocate that refugee/IDP schools be recognized as official schools, and as such are entitled to the same services and monitoring of safety by government authorities (UNHCR, 2007b).

5.    Monitoring and Evaluation. Strengthen the capacity of local and legal authorities to monitor teachers and staff, expand school curriculum, ensure safety measures are in place, and enforce codes of conduct. Support and, when necessary, help establish community structures such as education committees. Involve women and girls in the active monitoring of school safety (UNHCR, 2007b).

Example: A UNHCR/Save the Children UK report (2002) drew attention to the widespread sexual exploitation of girls by male teachers in exchange for good grades or other in-school privileges. To create more protective learning environments for girls, a strategy was introduced to recruit more women teachers to the schools.  However, this strategy was difficult to implement in the short term due to the few refugee or local women with the level of schooling, time, family support and resources required to become a teacher.  Well-educated women were often recruited for more lucrative positions in the UN, NGOs, or other agencies in the camps. Others were unable to leave family duties, especially single mothers. Therefore, the Classroom Assistant programme was initiated by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Guinea in 2002, and soon afterwards was adopted by IRC Sierra Leone in their education programs for Liberian refugees.

There are flexible entry requirements (Grade 9 education) to become a Classroom Assistant, so the position is open to a larger number of refugee women. Women who are selected participate in a short 2-5 day training workshop, which includes lesson planning, team teaching, tracking girls’ grades, and attendance and report writing. The workshop also covers topics such as child rights, child protection, and the prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation, and teaches communication and counseling skills. The assistants are then deployed to Grade 3-6 classes and expected to be in class with students all day, every day. They are visited on a regular basis by IRC supervisors, to whom they submit monthly reports detailing girls’ attendance, activities and home visits.

The Classroom Assistants have an explicit mandate to mitigate abuse and exploitation of students, but more broadly the programme was designed to create more conducive, girl-friendly learning environments and support quality learning for all students. One critical task the assistants perform is the collection and safe-keeping of the class grades from the teachers. This means that the students do not deal directly with the teacher about their grades, which helps to avoid situations in which teachers can manipulate and exploit girls for sex in exchange for altering their grades. Additionally, assistants monitor attendance and conduct home visits to follow up on absences. They help the girls with their studies, support health education activities, and engage in social club activities such as needlework, games and sports.

For many of the Classroom Assistants, the job means an opportunity for them to continue their own education; they are encouraged to attend evening classes to complete their secondary school studies, participate in different teacher trainings and eventually become teachers themselves.


Source: Adapted from INEE Gender Task Team, 2006, Preventing and Responding to Gender Based Violence In and Through Education.” Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies)

 Additional Tools:

See the education cluster website.

The Good School Toolkit by Raising Voices in Uganda contains a set of ideas and tools that will help educators explore what a good school is and guide them through a process that will help them create one. It was developed with the help of schools in Uganda and deliberately focuses on ideas and activities that do not require specific financial resources—just commitment and perseverance. The Good School Toolkit has four interrelated objectives that address development of the collective vision, creation of the learning environment, implementation of a more progressive learning methodology and addressing the governance of the school. These are:

  • Form a collective vision for what a Good School is and identify the knowledge and skills needed to create it.
  • Create a healthy psychological and physical environment within which learning can happen efficiently.
  • Create a teaching methodology that will help teachers teach and students learn.
  • Create fair and respectable policies that guide the entire school’s behaviour and actions.  For more information, download the toolkit.

For training manuals for students, teachers and  on preventing school-related violence against girls, see: USAID. 2009. Doorways Overview, Doorways 1, Doorways 2 and Doorways 3.

For a checklist for ensuring gender-equitable programming in the education sector, see page 54 of the Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2006.

For information on structuring Codes of Conduct for Refugee Schools, along with examples, see Annex 1 of “Safe Schools and Learning Environment: How to Prevent and Respond to Violence in Refugee Schools,” by UNHCR, 2007b.

For a Quick Guidance Note on key steps and actions to remember when addressing VAWG in the educational sector, see Annex 3 of “Safe Schools and Learning Environment: How to Prevent and Respond to Violence in Refugee Schools,” by UNHCR, 2007b.

For a toolkit and recommendations from UNHCR on preventing and responding to VAWG in refugee schools, see United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2007b. “Safe Schools and Learning Environment: How to Prevent and Respond to Violence in Refugee Schools.” Geneva: Technical Support Section, Division of Operational Services, UNHCR.